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Touted as success stories, many reconstruction projects now failing
Andrew Bielak
Published: Saturday April 28, 2007
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In a report that deeply contradicts repeated claims from officials that reconstruction in Iraq has seen remarkable progress, a federal oversight agency has found that among eight projects previously touted as successes in the rebuilding effort, a remarkable seven are no longer operating as intended, according to a New York Times report.

While in previous cases, the administration admitted that certain projects had been abandoned due to various security and maintenance issues, this marks the first instance in which projects that had formerly been deemed sucessful were no longer functioning.

“These first inspections indicate that the concerns that we and others have had about the Iraqis sustaining our investments in these projects are valid,” said Stuart W. Bowen Jr., who leads the office of the special inspector general, adding that he ordered the inspections because he suspected that many of the projects had not been maintained and were in fact defunct.

Many of the operations are critical in the United States' efforts to reconstruct Iraqi society. They include a water purification system, an incinerator for medical waste at a maternity ward, and a set of electrical generators at the Baghdad airport.

In all seven cases, the project had previously been inspected and approved as functioning properly, with some of the inspections occurring as recently as six months ago. "Curiously, most of the problems seemed unrelated to sabotage stemming from Iraq’s parlous security situation," the Times notes, "but instead were the product of poor initial construction, petty looting, a lack of any maintenance and simple neglect."

Rick Barton, co-director of the postconflict reconstruction project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, pointed out that the lack of input given to Iraqis in a project can hinder their involvement in its upkeep. “What ultimately makes any project sustainable is local ownership from the beginning in designing the project, establishing the priorities. If you don’t have those elements it’s an extension of colonialism and generally it’s resented.”

Earlier efforts by Bowen to point out the problems with the projects proved fruitless, the Times reports, as both the Army Corps and reconstruction wing of the United States embassy in Baghad dismissed the concerns as overly meddlesome. Responding to earlier complaints, acting director of the embassy bureau William Lynch wrote that “Recommendations such as how much water to use in cleaning floors or disposal of medical waste could be deemed as an intrusion on, or attempt to micromanage operations of an Iraqi entity that we have no controlling interest over."